How to Become a Professional Translator

Becoming a professional translator requires more than just language fluency.
How to Become a Professional Translator

Professional translators make their living by working with the written word. They translate all kinds of documents, from legal papers to movie subtitles, and they have the opportunity to choose their preferred mode of work – freelance or in-house. However, there’s so much more to the career of a professional translator than meets the eye. To become a translator yourself, you’ll need more than language proficiency tests and good foreign language skills.

In this article we explore what it takes to make a living from translating. One thing’s for sure – this career path is nothing short of exciting! If you want to know how to become a translator, keep on reading.

Master the Language

This may seem like a no-brainer, but trust us, it’s absolutely crucial to master both your native and target language. The translation industry is quite competitive, and even though there are always commissions, tasks, and assignments up for grabs, you won’t be able to gain a loyal client base if your language skills are subpar.

If you want to become a translator, you need expert knowledge of your target and source languages and awareness of the ins and outs of this line of work. One of the best ways to achieve this is by getting a degree in translation. Keep in mind that being fluent in your target language is just one aspect of your work as a professional translator. You also need to develop native speaker skills in order to compete against other experienced translators.

Gain Translating Experience

To become a translator, you need to learn about this profession and hone your translation skills. Many professional translators start their careers whilst they’re still studying. University teaching can give you a strong theoretical base, but you’ll need to put your skills to the test in the real world.  You may, for instance, look for internships in translation agencies – this is a sure-fire way to learn about the ins and outs of the industry. Once you get the hang of it, you can also search for assignments as a freelance translator.

Professional translators usually have a loyal client base, but they haven’t achieved it overnight. You can send samples of your work and ask for feedback and recommendations. Make sure you deliver your translations on time, and be mindful of the appropriateness of the language you use. You can also gain experience by learning from other translators, be it during translation classes at university or via internships or first jobs in professional agencies.

Choose Your Niche

In the translation industry, specialisation is key. That’s why you should choose your niche and look for similar assignments to gain more experience. Translation studies can help you discover what you are best suited to, as they will give you the opportunity to handle various types of text.

During the process of becoming a translator, you’ll have to develop qualifications allowing you to translate documents from your source language to your target language as correctly and efficiently as possible. 

The best strategy is to specialise; this way, you’ll be working with texts that are similar in terms of vocabulary, style, and structure. You can obviously expand your area of expertise subsequently and look for new challenges. However, if you’re taking your first steps as a professional translator, you should stick to one niche and work on your translation techniques.

Keep On Learning

Getting a diploma in translation is one thing. But languages are constantly evolving, and so is technology, which means that your education as a translator won’t end when you gain an official translation qualification. 

If you want to be a professional translator, you need to stay on top of developments and standards in the industry, follow trends, and educate yourself about the software you may need to use in your translation work.

You must also be aware of changes and developments in your area of expertise. You may do legal or medical translations, handle business and commercial texts, and so on – whatever the specialism, you need to follow the news in the field of your choice. 

You may want to read academic texts in your target and source language. Or you may consider taking a higher degree yourself or passing new language proficiency tests. One thing’s for sure – professional translators can’t complain about boredom in their line of work!

Freelance or Company

If you want to become a professional translator, you also need to consider your employment options and decide what would work best for you. Basically, you have two choices: you can either work as a freelance translator, or you can look for job openings in professional translation agencies. Here’s what you need to know about these two very different modes of work:

Working as a Freelance Translator

There are several aspects of freelance translation work you need to be aware of. The pros include a high degree of independence and mobility – as a freelance translator, you can work from any place in the world and only take on assignments from clients you really want to work with. Additionally, if you’re extremely productive and skilled, your salary will reflect your efforts.

However, working as a freelance translator has its cons, with a lack of security being probably the biggest. You need to take on translation assignments to make a living, and you must look for clients on your own. Also, you have to pay for software and courses, and there are no benefits such as health insurance or paid holiday leave.

Working in a Translation Agency

Professional translators working in a translation agency have a stable salary, compensation package and access to equipment (often including computer-assisted translation software) to make their job easier. They also have a chance to learn from their colleagues, receive free training, and work for reputable major companies with a wide reach.

The downsides of translation work in an agency include a cap on earnings, a lack of independence, and little mobility. The work environment can be stressful as well. However, even freelance translators find it hard at times to cope with their job, meet deadlines, negotiate with clients and so on.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, becoming a translator is a process that requires time and effort. It’s not the easiest profession, but it is certainly rewarding. To become a translator, you need to develop excellent foreign language skills at the level of an educated native speaker, specialise, and look for opportunities to gain knowledge and experience. Once you have your translation qualification, your job opportunities are almost endless!

Ultimately, never stop learning, and don’t give up! 

After all, beginning anything professionally for the first time is rarely easy. You can learn a lot during translation studies and by doing internships or working for translation agencies. 

You can also discover the ins and outs of this profession as a freelance translator. 

If you wish, you can switch between working for a translation agency and freelancing to experience the full spectrum of the translation industry. 

Keep honing your skills, and remember that human input is necessary for this line of work – there is and always will be a demand for skilled translators with expert knowledge of their target and source languages.

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